Deadlifts: Learn Why The King Is Dead!

Most people don't know how to perform this lift properly nor have I seen those certified personal trainers describe the movement properly to a novice lifter. Learn the secrets of the deadlift!

Be sure that you don't round or flatten your back or you'll be risking a back injury.

For a more effective deadlift try increasing strength in your hamstrings and lower back.

Listen to your body. If you feel a twinge in your lower back avoid deadlifting temporarily.

The squat may be the king. But, the deadlift is certainly a serious monarch in the physique building kingdom. 'Pulling' is probably one of the best movements for overall leg and lower back growth, plain and simple. Deadlifts hit your quads, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, abs, traps, and upper lats.

Then if its such a great exercise why aren't more individuals incorporating them into their exercise programs? Like squatting, performing deadlifts are extremely taxing on the body, mentally and physically. But, there is a reason most gym goers are not performing deadlifts in their lifting programs it's because, quite frankly, most only lift for recreation. Though these so-called lifters say they want to look like Ronnie Coleman or think they are training intensely, only the true bodybuilders and weight lifters dead train. Most people don't know how to perform this lift properly nor have I seen those "certified" personal trainers describe the movement properly to a novice lifter.

This is the purpose of this article. I will try and give the beginning weight lifter and the intermediate lifter who are looking on advancing their physique development valuable information and descriptions of how this lift is to be performed.

Here Are Some Basics

Deadlift means to take a barbell from the floor to resting around hip level. First, stand behind a barbell that is placed on the floor in front of you. Place your hands about shoulder width apart, usually the right overhand and the left underhand, lift the bar by pushing your legs through the floor, while maintaining your chin up (face directly in the mirror) and chest up. Do not, sway your back or lift the bar off the floor by locking out your legs so your back is bent over the bar. Wrong! Maintain the erect position, chin up and chest up pulling all the way up till you are at arms length the bar is stopped at thigh level.

And most importantly do not "Shrug" or lean backward. That is another wrong element people do in the movement. Now return the bar to the floor. Not very descriptive? I hope so. Thought that was simple? Well we've just made it harder. There are 2 variations of deadlift to describe conventional, and sumo.

RELATED VIDEO: Breaking Down The Deadlift!

Fitness Expert Matt Biss shows you the best techniques and equipment for maximizing your pull.


Your stance is about shoulder width apart with your feet pointed ahead. You should now lower your butt until your quads are roughly parallel to the floor. The bar should be just ahead of your shins. Now grip the barbell with both hands so that your grip is spaced slightly outside your legs. With a slight arch in your back push with your legs so that the bar clears your knees and comes to rest at your upper thigh. During the entire attempt make sure your arms are hanging to your sides, never pull the weight with your arms or you might encounter a biceps tear, and that's not fun. Your shoulders and knees should be locked and your arms should be hanging straight upon completion.


This variation is often used to reduce stress on the lower back. The difference between the sumo and conventional styles is the foot positioning, grip and starting pull. In sumo you place your feet out wide near the plates typically about 3 inches from the plates. Your grip comes inside your legs. Your hands should be in the center of the bar about 6-10 inches apart. In this position your back should be straight. Sumo style requires glute, hamstring and hip flexor strength.

Placement Of The Bar:

The bar should start about 1" away from your shins and stay this far away until you clear your knees. Though this is sometimes hard to do, and resulting in ripped up shins. With heavier weight the bar will drag against your thighs. Remember to push with your legs.

Hand Grip:

There are two styles of grip for deadlift... the overhand and the alternate grip. In the overhand grip both palms of the hands face the floor with the thumbs underneath the bar. The biggest problem with this grip style is that with heavier weights the bar tends to slip from the hands. This is why many deadlifters prefer the "over and under" method. This method places one hand supinated (palm toward the ceiling) and the other is pronated (towards the floor.) Helping the bar from less slippage. I personally don't use wrist straps. But, that's because I'm an old powerlifter. I use lots of chalk. Your gym doesn't allow chalk, probably most places are to pretty and lazy to clean their gyms. Sorry, that's another article. But, you can use straps. So, if you do choose to use straps in the deadlift I suggest getting some wrist straps there great!

The Movement:

Now that the bar is correctly aligned and you've chosen your stance its time to move that bar. You should be in a squatting position with a good arch. Do not round or flatten your back at any time! This is very important. If you round or flatten your back on the initial pull or to get that last rep you're risking a serious injury that might set you back months or totally end your weightlifting career. If you cannot do deadlifts with good form then do not do them, period.

A good tip to do is to elevate your eyes and look at a point about 6" above you or as I say, "keep your chin up!" Now drive your feet into the floor and push with your legs. Keep your arms locked at all times throughout the movement. Lock the legs at the top of the lift. Lower the weight with the legs and back in a controlled manner just like you started.

How do you train the deadlift? With a 12-week plan working on developing more hamstring strength and lower back strength. This system will be a constantly revolving system of training. You will do core training exercises every three weeks and rotate those exercises each week. This method of training is called the supermaximal method.

Workouts For The Deadlift:


Triples - Performing sets of three reps. The term used when the number of sets is not clear. Either the lifter is working to failure or working towards a 3RM. Singles - Performing sets of one rep. The term used when the number of sets is not clear. Either the lifter is working to failure or working towards a 1RM. 1RM (1 Rep Max) - The weight that allows a person to go to failure following just one rep. Failure - That point in an exercise at which you have so fully fatigued your working muscles that they can no longer complete an additional repetition of a movement with strict biomechanics. You should always take your post-warm-up sets at least to the point of momentary muscular failure, and frequently past that point.
  • Box Squats Workout: Do you have access to a safety squat bar? If so, do box squats on a 12-inch box. Working your way up to triples and then when you cannot do 3s do singles working up to a max. Then 3 sets of 15 with stiff-legged deadlifts. Then sit-ups.
  • Good Morning Workout: Good mornings (remember, when doing a good morning the bar must be in front of the knees if you bend and the bar is not over the knees then you are doing squats. Do the good mornings exactly like the above working up to a 3-rep max or a max single. Stiff-legged deadlift four sets of 15 and then T-bar rows on chest support machine three sets of 6.
  • Front Squats Workout: Front squats on a low box or low bench if you have one. Do singles until you max single.
  • Barbell Row Workout: Barbell rows with a close grip. Do 5 sets of 8. Bar Shrugs. Now remember this means "shrug" don't put six plates on each side of the bar, grunt and grown trying to show off your non-shrugging abilities when you cannot even move the bar a centimeter. Put a nice easygoing weight on the bar where you can do a full range shoulder to ear shrugs. After that move right into stiff-legged deadlift. This workout should work right down the middle of the back from the upper traps right down to the glute and hamstrings.
  • Box Deadlift Workout: This is for conventional deadlifts. Place two 35 or 45 pound plates together on the floor near the bar. Stand on the plates so you are lifting from a higher position. These are called Box deadlifts. Work up to a 3-rep max. Then do hanging leg raises for 3 sets of 15. Stiff-legged deadlift for 5 sets of 15. (You can do Box deadlifts if you Sumo deadlift, but it's a little more difficult off of plates, the feet seem to slip out.)
  • Side Deadlift Workout: Try a few sets of side deadlifts. This is a great exercise that'll thicken up the torso, strengthen the entire body, and help you improve your deadlifting numbers. Perform this movement by standing to the side of a barbell and grasping it with one hand directly in the center. Drop into a low conventional deadlift position and drive your feet into the floor. Upon completing 3 sets of 3 pick up a pair of heavy dumbbells and walk around the gym for one minute. If need be you can use straps. Don't have a pair? Then check out what the big boys use, click here!
  • One-Legged Squat Workout: Attempt this one. This is one of my favorites just because it helps open flexibility in the hips and groin area. Do one-legged squats with a straddle stance or place them about shoulder width apart. Support your back foot on a bench and place your other foot far out in front of you. Squat all the way down this works the entire leg while doing what I already stated. Do 4 sets of 10 reps each. When you're done go right into deadlifts for 2 sets of 25.

To train the deadlift for better max weights you must train in a multi-year program. That training program period could be 6. 8, 10 or 12 week cycles. I do short bursts of 6-week cycles. Above are just a few workouts I use. Design your own, all it takes is a little imagination and hard work.

Bare in mind, when training for the deadlift you are training your hamstrings, quads, glutes, hips, abs, erectors, and trapezoids. I just now started pulling again after a 3-year lay off, and with all the hamstring training I have been doing I pulled 600 easy. How about you? How's your dead practice going? Besides, after I read about Becca Swanson pulling 605 at a powerlifting meet I had to get my ass in the gym and start pulling again. So, load that bar and give me one more rep!

Tips For Injury Prevention

Do not pull when you have a pinch in the lower back. It's only a twinge. Yeah right, I have had so many lower back injuries that I have learned my lesson and watch for warning signs that my back could go at anytime. There were times when my pain was so intense that I couldn't even get out of bed without biting the pillow to death. So, I have become accustomed to recognizing that specific feeling. The feeling that something in my lower back is on the verge of making life miserable.

I used to ignore these things, being a scholarship football player you play with pain if you want to keep that ride. But, I'm not on scholarship anymore and do not have to take the pain or suffer the consequences. So, when that little voice in your head says, "don't be stupid," you might want to listen. Because you want to be able to pull on another day, not ever!

Deadlift: What Not To Do!

  • Do not round your back in any deadlifting movement. This will make your back vulnerable to injury if you do so. Concentrate on keeping the back arch, chest up and chin up, and eyes focused looking straight ahead.
  • Do not jerk the bar up your thigh. The movement should be smooth from top to bottom.
  • Do not tip forward or move your feet during this lift. If you do you could be risking a serious back injury. Push your feet through the floor and keep the weight as close to your center of gravity as possible.
  • Do not hitch the bar. This means do not jerk the bar up and down in the middle of the movement in order to lock it out at the top.
  • Do not let your knees bow in and out during this lift. Lateral movement is dangerous for the knees.
  • Do not go heavy at first. When I first did deadlifts I used 135 pounds concentrating on technique and my form while training my spinal erectors doing good mornings, and other lower back work.